Thursday, May 08, 2008

The Problem of Pink and Purple

In a current series on gender identities, NPR featured a story concerning the therapy that two young boys with feminine traits have been receiving. The story speaks for itself, but one aspect of it connected with me. One of the boys, whose therapist (Dr. Ken Zucker) was keen on coercion, had his parents take away his "girly" toys and in their place the child was given "gender appropriate" ones. As a result the boy stopped playing with toys altogether- he spent his days drawing instead. His subjects were rainbows and unicorns and faeries, drawn in hues of pink and purple and pale yellow. The linked transcript above is abridged, in the radio broadcast it was mentioned that the therapist then had his parents take away the offending crayons.

Pink and Purple crayons? Isn't that a bit much? They then "taught" the poor kid how to draw boys, with presumably more masculine colors (burnt umber, battleship gray?); the child had realized that the only way he could get them off his case was to comply, which he did- in a perfunctory manner. Another budding artist destroyed.

All sorts of alarm bells started going off in my head when I heard that. I remember certain favorite toys taken away, and I remember many hours of my childhood spent doing things I detested, in a resentful manner, just to make the coercion stop. Some of the damage took a long time to even identify, much less resolve.

Dr. Diane Ehrensaft, the other featured therapist in the radio show, took a more measured view:
“If we allow people to unfold and give them the freedom to be who they really are, we engender health. And if we try and constrict it, or bend the twig, we engender poor mental health.”

These boys figured out from an early age that girls get nicer clothes, have the most social opportunities, and have the best style sense. Adolescence will come upon then soon enough, when it does which child will be better able to face it- the conflicted but "normal" one or the one in harmony with him/her self?

By Professor Batty


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